Wow. Something called The Men's Story Project happened yesterday people. Something that needed to happen and needs to keep happening. Something healing, transformative, and also hugely triggering for a lot of people. Such is way of transformation....
We saw men talk about their legacies of inflicting (or receiving) violence, how they learned to do that in the context of manhood, how they came to a place of no longer being violent, and what it took. We saw a man come out on stage for the first time as HIV+, and share a heartwrenching story about how his parents have since completely abandoned him. We watched this man share his struggle, tears welling up, voice faltering, as he still proclaimed himself as an emotional survivor, making the best out of life. He had a tearful standing ovation before he was even finished. We also heard a letter from a transman to his folks, folks still trying to understand him. We saw amazing dance that portrayed aspects of black masculinity and survival in this country. We saw a man with cerebral palsy fiercely reclaim his sexuality and beauty in lieu of being invisiblized by so much of society. Another man dealing with the inevitability of having a testicle removed, which mixed humor with vulnerability in a masterful way. We saw more whimsical pieces, dealing with men's no-eye contact urinal rituals, pieces that dealt with hetero men not feeling able to be affectionate and loving to each other, pieces that dealt with the messages of fathers, some extremely toxic, some good. Stories of women being the formative and positive role models when dads weren't around. Tales of struggling with sexuality, tales of spiritual awakenings, and surviving prison. Tales of reclaiming an emotional life, tales of over coming self-hatred for being male, tales of advocating for other boys so that men can be non-violent, loving men... and testimony that despite the hype and images in the media, that black men are loving and compassionate.
And more, much more. (**YouTube updates of the show coming to this blog soon!)
At the end, there was a long thunderous standing ovation, tearstained cheeks, shouts from the audience.
The question and answer period after the performance was charged. People were intensely moved, and people were also intensely triggered. One woman commented that stories of contributions of women felt absent to her (besides being targets of violence or romantic partners) especially in comparison to The Vagina Monologues where women seemed to evoke male influences all the time. Another woman felt that though she appreciated that men were telling these vulnerable stories around how they have been damaged by patriarchy, that the missing piece for her was the privilege that men have to be in these positions in the first place.
And there were other comments asking about violence, including how men could reconcile loving violent fathers... and one disabled woman who experienced the noise level of the music as violence, which was an intense moment. I saw one of the participants get into a open hearted conversation with her afterwards asking what can be done to have the music "NOT be violent."
My feelings about the first two criticisms was that the legacy of fathers is a huge component around how we reproduce patriarchy. As is the reinforcement of fellow men to "man up". It was powerful for me to hear men admit to when they used to hit women. I have never personally known men who hit women. I can see how that can be triggering for women to hear, on many levels, including the representation that women would have in these stories. If anything, perhaps this was a glimpse into the boys club of power that a lot of us live in, shared with vulnerability and awareness. Around the second comment, Josie Lehrer, the person who conceived the project, introduced the show as being a healing process that deals with the effects of patriarchy and imbalances of power. For me, most of the men's stories were testimonies around the toxicity that comes with our privilege, and a lot were also rays of hope around how to transcend the reproduction of these patriarchal behaviors. I am hoping that most people didn't leave this performance thinking this was about men complaining and being oblivious to the power granted us by society. But the comments were duly noted, and perhaps will be formative in the next show.... which i hope to be in this time!
I left La Peña with my mind twirling. It was an intense show. Possibly one of the most impactful shows i have seen in years. It also left me thinking about gender and organizing men with progressive projects. This might just be a personal thing... but i am finding it interesting that i had zero response from other men to do the Walk Against Rape with me, but Josie, an awesome woman, was hugely successful in getting this already historical project going. I want emphasize that this isn't to detract from Josie, i am so thankful for her doing this. I am just looking at a curious dynamic. Of course, men start projects all the time, i know this is just a reflection of my experience. But perhaps it takes someone who is receiving the oppression to really have the solutions. For example, the National White Privilege Conference was founded by Eddie Moore Jr., a black man.
In the meantime, I am glad that this new expression exists. Not men's stories in the patriarchal canon of his-stories, but a breaking of silence around codes we are expected to maintain in order to keep the status quo. Hetero men being able to look at each other and say "i love you". Men transforming their experiences with violence and being a model for youth so that new generations don't replicate the oppression. I am glad i listened to myself and stepped down from performing this time, but i am so looking forward to making a contribution in the future, and i thank Josie and all the men for bringing the realness.